The Office for the Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia’s Tidewater District, confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, though noted a cause of death was still pending. His wife, Meco Barcliff, told The New York Times that the rapper (real name Melvin Barcliff) had not been feeling well for the past week; but, she added, he had no known health problems besides asthma.
The rapper’s death was first announced by Digital Black, a member of the Nineties R&B/hip-hop group Playa, which was part of the same Swing Mob/Da Bassment Cru collective as Timbaland and Magoo. “Man can’t believe this RIH Magoo damn big bro wasnt ready for this at all,” the singer wrote on Instagram.
Timbaland also shared a tribute on Instagram, writing, “This one hits different 🥲🥲🥲 long live Melvin aka magoo !!!💔💔💔 Tim and Magoo forever 🕊️🕊️🕊️ rest easy my king.”
And Missy Elliott wrote on Twitter, “This kind of post I don’t wish on any1😢 at 1st I was in shock & now reality has kicked in😭i asked you to rap on Beep Me 911 & I played your verse over & over because I always loved your VA style 😞posting this is so heartbreaking I am so lost for words…”
Ginuwine, another Swing Mob alum, remembered Magoo, writing, “This dude, always pushed me… Totally one of the best ever in my eyes, always pressing forward. I know we didn’t talk a lot but the love was and will be always there my brotha. I will see you soon bro, we all have our date and I’m expecting the bro hug when I get there.”
Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff met Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley when they were teenagers growing up in the Hamptons Road region of Virginia in the early Nineties. In a rare 2020 interview with You Know It Got Soul, Magoo said he first knew Timbaland as a top-notch local DJ — and then he learned he could make beats, too.
“At that point, I had never met anybody in person that was serious about the art and that was that talented at the art,” Magoo said, adding: “He was miles ahead of everybody though. I heard people DJ and rap before him, but it was like he was from New York with his level of ability. It was ridiculous when he was 16. He was also a beatbox champion too!
Magoo and Tim first made music together as part of a group called S.B.I. (Surrounded by Idiots), which also included Timbaland’s cousin, Pharrell, and another local figure, Larry Live. Around that time, Timbaland was also producing for a local hip-hop group called Sista, which was fronted by a young Missy Elliott. After Sista signed a deal with Swing Mob — the label headed up by Jodeci’s DeVanté Swing — both Magoo and Timbaland followed the group to Rochester, New York where the label was based. There they met other up-and-coming artists like Ginuwine, Playa, and Tweet,
“When I first got around all those cats, they were the most talented group of people I’d ever been around,” Magoo said in that 2020 interview. “When you’re in the moment, you don’t appreciate it as much but all those people pushed me. They never pushed me because it was a competition though. Nobody ever competed against each other and there was no animosity, but when you see Playa or Ginuwine, Missy’s group Sista or Tweet’s group Sugah recording, it was so much talent.”
During the Nineties, Magoo sharpened his craft as a rapper as Timbaland’s stock rose as a producer. In 1995, Swing Mob dissolved as a label, but many of the members continued to work together (often under the collective name “The Superfriends”). In Nov. 1997, on the heels of Missy Elliott’s celebrated solo debut Supa Dupa Fly, Timbaland and Magoo released their debut studio album, Welcome to Our World. The LP was led by the smash lead single, “Up Jumps da Boogie” (featuring Elliott and Aaliyah), which topped the Hot Rap Songs chart and peaked at Number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
With his self-described “light voice,” Magoo settled on a style of rapping that was playful and funny. As such, he often faced criticism from harder-edged hip-hop heads, but as he put it: “I chose that lane because I understood the industry. I would say stuff like ‘Wiggle a bit stop drop get up snake freak’ [from 2001’s ‘Drop’] because I wanted something kids could remember… I had to figure out where I fit and that’s where you got the catchphrases. I tried to have something in there that would make people remember what I said because I knew people forget rappers all the time.”
He continued: “The commercial success that Tim and I had allowed me to do three albums. We made fun records, but they weren’t corny. I don’t have any regrets. I liked the reaction I got from people that were fans. I didn’t get the street credibility that I got into hip hop for, but I felt if I could make people happy and have a good time, that was contributing to hip hop too but in a different way.”
Timbaland and Magoo released two more albums, 2001’s Indecent Proposal and 2003’s Under Construction, Part II. While neither reached the same heights as Welcome to Our World, both spawned successful and memorable singles like “Drop,” “All Y’all,” and “Cop That Shit.”
After that, though, Magoo largely stepped back from music and only returned to the mic occasionally. As the MC put it in 2020, success turned out to be more exhausting than exhilarating, and he quickly grew disillusioned with the entertainment industry.
“A lot of people go their whole career without having 25 percent of that and I’ve been blessed to have it, but I never got a chance to enjoy it,” he said. “I’m going to keep it real, I didn’t enjoy any of that. I never felt like me and Tim got a chance to enjoy our early years and it never even felt like we were this million selling group… I enjoyed it more once it was over and I still didn’t enjoy it. That’s why I walked away from it. The music business is a promise that can’t be kept and that’s fame. When I had a number one song, I realized I may have been better with my 9-5 before I left Virginia.”
Despite all that, there was of course one element that was worthwhile: “being in a group with my friend.” Of his partnership with Timbaland, Magoo said, “That was the best time for me when we would make those songs together. That’s the only thing I miss. I don’t miss the fame, I just miss making songs with my homeboy.”
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